Quesnel Special Olympics held its annual banquet at the Elks Hall in West Quesnel on May 5.
A packed house caught up with old friends, discussed the year’s triumphs and feasted on a delicious potluck spread.
Program co-ordinator Rick Prosk brought up a couple local pickleball players to showcase the increasingly-popular sport, which will be part of the Fit Family and Friends program this summer.
As a nice addition to the evening’s festivities, Brock Terlesky treated the crowd with a well-performed repeat of his Our Tellings speech, which chronicled his journey with autism and touched on the role Special Olympics played in helping him on that path.
The curling, floor hockey, swimming, skiing, basketball, Club Fit, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and rhythmic gymnastics coaches all brought their athletes to the front of the room sport-by-sport for pictures. Within their groups, they chose a few athletes that best exemplified the Special Olympics spirit and provided them with small gifts like T-shirts to inspire them to continue putting forth excellent efforts.
The Glen McLeod coaching award was presented to Ryan Tilsner this year.
The relatively-new second-year coach has three sons enrolled in the Special Olympics program and says he coaches over seven sports, including basketball, curling, skiing, hockey, swimming, soccer and track and field.
“He is very knowledgeable and relates well to all of the athletes,” says Prosk. “He has high standards and expectations and pushes the athletes to excel.”
As coach of the gold medal-winning floor hockey team, Tilsner believes that push really opened the eyes of many of the athletes to what they are capable of.
“We were going down to the provincials and they could tell I was frustrated with some of their fitness levels,” Tilsner says. “They didn’t know what to do about it because they thought they were active.”
One day, Tilsner held a meeting at the end of floor hockey practice and extended a challenge to the squad. He said, if anyone wants to commit to being fit, he will help them with a program and ensure they meet their goals.
“I had to phone all the athletes, and I ran around town, up to the top of the hill, down to the bottom of the hill and everywhere in between,” Tilsner says, “I picked a bunch of athletes up, I took them to the gym and I set them up with a program and for about a month before we went to the provincials.
“All of them felt that they had never done anything so intensive, but they could see themselves getting better, so I think they appreciated the fact that I helped them become better athletes.”
The coach-of-the-year says he was not everyone’s favourite person while he was phoning the floor hockey athletes and cajoling them to come to the gym.
“They didn’t like that very much,” he says, while chuckling, “but after we won a gold medal, when they look back at the performance, they could see that they played at a level that they had never played before.
“That’s what it took to win gold, and they could see that I cared that much and they recognized it and said ‘thanks a lot for pushing us; that’s exactly what we needed.’”
He is incredibly grateful the athletes decided to choose him as the coach of the year, as he thinks the world of them and the program they are all a part of.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,” he says. “Even if my kids aren’t in it, it’s just an organization that I see as so incredibly valuable to these athletes, so there’s no way I’m ever going to quit.”
Winning the 10th annual Paul Turgeon Award was Dean Cake.
Although he has flown under the radar for many years, Dean is a longtime member of the program and an integral part of the Special Olympics family.
He has had some health concerns that have slowed him down in recent years, but he was able to perform at a high level this year as part of the silver medal-winning curling team at the BC Winter Games in Vernon this February.
“He is friendly and personable and a very supportive teammate,” says Prosk. “I am always impressed with the determination he puts in to complete a 400m race because it is an endurance event for him.
“It’s too bad that it took [nine years] for his fellow athletes to recognize him, but he is quiet and unassuming, so sometimes his contributions get overlooked.”
It is fair to say those contributions are no longer being overlooked.
If you see Dean bussing tables in Granville’s in the near future, make sure to congratulate him on the big win.